Three Rivers had about 900 people back then. It was the sort of close-knit community where, during the winter when tourists weren't around, if someone unfamiliar was shopping in one of the two small grocery stores, locals would ask each other "Who was that?" when the person left.
It was more than just a gateway to Sequoia National Park. There were quite a few artists, drawn, I suppose, by the beautiful natural landscape: three forks of the Kaweah River, with the Middle Fork flowing down a canyon that offered views of the high Sierras.
During one of her visits, my grandmother hugely enjoyed the time she and the Three Rivers garbage collector got into a deep discussion about art when the guy -- an artist needing a regular job -- came onto our porch to collect the can.
"Where else," she'd say at family gatherings, "can you have a great conversation about art with the garbageman?"
Camp Sherman and Sisters, central Oregon towns about fifteen miles apart, make me feel right at home -- my childhood home. My wife and I own one-fourth of a Forest Service cabin on the Metolius River in Camp Sherman. That makes us about 10% of a full-time resident I guess, since we come to the cabin about a week a month for half the year.
Yesterday I attended the annual meeting of the Metolius River Forest Homeowners Association (MRFHA) at the Camp Sherman community hall. Most of the meeting was about as non-exciting as you'd expect an event like this to be. But when local sheriff Dave Blann stood up to give his report, my small-town soul immediately woke up.
He started off by saying there were no break-in's at any Forest Service cabins this winter, adding "I wish I could take credit for some great policing work, but I suspect the truth is that the bad guys can't afford $4 gallon gas to get up here."
Sheriff Dave checks out suspicious behavior, even when animal-caused. Some cabins have alarms that can be set off by intruders of less than human size.
"It really makes me glad that I chose police work," he told us, "when I'm sneaking around a cabin in the snow, my rifle at the ready, and a squirrel is looking at me thinking What the heck are you doing out here?
Dave said this year he responded to a first-time noise complaint: some campers at Riverside campground (near the head of the Metolius) were annoyed about all the noise people at a Tract C cabin across the river were making. This got a good laugh from the assembled cabin owners (some of whom may have been the culprits).
"Here's the lesson for you," Sheriff Dave said. "If you're having a party, invite your neighbors." Beautiful.
Near the end of his presentation a woman asked, "Do you have a regular routine?" She meant a patrol routine. But before he answered I instantly thought, Wow, maybe he has a comedy routine! Dave should. Really.
Along with Camp Sherman, Sisters was humming with visitors this Fourth of July weekend. Lots of motorcyclists were enjoying great two-wheeling weather and central Oregon scenery. Passers-by, including me, were drawn to one of the many outdoor events the town puts on during the summer, the aptly named Sisters Summer Faire.
Sisters, like Camp Sherman, feels wonderfully welcoming, natural, and unassuming. Almost universally residents are relaxed, polite, casual, friendly.
Simple shopping errands are more pleasant in these small towns. The Sisters Ace Hardware reminds me a bit of the hardware store in Three Rivers when my mother moved there in 1955. It was small, but somehow it had anything you needed. Not that you could find it yourself, the place was so crammed full. The owner knew where stuff was, though.
Without fail, I always stop at Paulina Springs Books when I visit Sisters. It's a terrific independent bookstore, an endangered business species. I'm more than a little ashamed to admit how many books I buy from Amazon. I'm also a frequent buyer at Paulina Springs Books, though.
There's nothing like walking into a bookstore and seeing a "staff favorites" table. Kneeling down and reading the staff reviews of favorite books makes me realize how important it is to be able to pick up a book, thumb through the pages, and see whether you agree with a glowing recommendation by a fellow book lover.
When it came to "Nowhere to Run" by C.J. Box, I sure did.
As soon as I finish this post, I'm going to get back to reading this engrossing paperback mystery. I'd never heard of Box's Joe Pickett (a Wyoming game warden) series before. Thanks to Paulina Springs Books, I'm probably hooked on C.J. Box now.
If you're ever in central Oregon, don't pass up Camp Sherman and Sisters. A visit to the Camp Sherman store (it's the only store in Camp Sherman) will take you back to a simpler time.
My childhood time.
When locals could have their purchases rung up, say "Put it on my account," and the clerk would turn to a bunch of alphabetized mini-ledgers behind the cash register, calling out your name and a "thank you" as you walked out the door.
A lot has changed since I was seven years old. I'm so glad that some towns haven't.